Armor: M1A1-SA For Morocco

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June 25, 2012: Morocco has asked the United States for 200 used M1A1 tanks. Morocco would get the tanks for free but would pay to have them refurbished and upgraded to the M1A1-SA standard. Morocco would also buy spare parts and technical services. The U.S. has plenty of surplus M1s and the refurbishment and upgrade is done in an American plant that is in danger of closing without such work. Morocco has always been a good friend, just the kind of nation the U.S. is comfortable providing upgraded M1A1 tanks to. Morocco is one of many Arab states that have obtained the M1 tank.

Four years ago Iraq ordered 140 M1A1-SA Abrams tanks, along with over a hundred support vehicles (for maintenance and transportation, like 35 tank transporters). The request includes training and technical support, for a total contract cost of over $2 billion. The tanks began arriving two years ago and all have now been delivered.

Iraq received newly built tanks, largely equipped to the "SA" (Situational Awareness") standard the U.S. Army developed six years ago. The M1A1-SA includes the latest thermal (FLIR, or heat sensing) sights, a special engine air filter system developed to deal with the abundant sand and dust in Iraq, the telephone on the rear fender, which allows accompanying infantry to communicate with the crew, and numerous small improvements.

There are several items the Iraqi SA tanks did not get that those used by American troops do have. The Iraqi M1A1s had no depleted uranium armor, no ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor), and some protection against anti-tank missiles. Also missing is Blue Force Tracker (a U.S. satellite tracking system that shows the location of all American vehicles and aircraft in the vicinity).

Despite the removal of some features, the Iraqis are glad to have their M-1s. Over the last nine years, Iraqis have been very impressed by the U.S. military. Although the U.S. initially advised the Iraqis to expand upon their use of Russian equipment (which they had been using for over three decades and is cheaper than Western stuff), the Iraqis insisted on adopting U.S. gear and tactics. Thus Iraqi troops wear similar uniforms and use many identical weapons and items of equipment. Iraqi soldiers, especially the younger ones, imitate American moves to the point that, in the field, U.S. troops sometimes had to look closely to determine if the G.I. down the street is American or Iraqi.

Egypt, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia already operate over 1,600 of M1 tanks, and Egypt has built hundreds of them (mainly using components imported from the U.S. but with some locally made parts as well). All the other Arab users have at least some of the latest model (M1A2 SEP).

The Arab users of the M1 have been very happy with their American tanks. This satisfaction increased when they saw how the M-1 performed in Iraq. While most Arabs deplored U.S. operations there, Arab tank officers and M-1 crewmen were quietly pleased that their tanks appeared invulnerable and able to assist the infantry in any kind of fight. Iraqi army officers have spoken to fellow Arab officers who have used the M-1 and were told this was the way to go.

Selling the M-1 to Iraq created the possibility (although remote) of M-1s fighting M-1s. Saudi Arabia is seen as the champion of mainstream Sunni Arabs and has long supported the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq. For a while, after 2003, with the increasingly savage fighting between Sunni and Shia Arabs in Iraq, there was talk of Saudi Arabia intervening, or threatening to, in order to halt attacks against Iraqi Sunni Arabs. This idea quickly went away in the face of an American army in Iraq and growing al Qaeda terrorism in Saudi Arabia. But once U.S. troops leave, and if the ancient animosity between Sunni and Shia Arabs in Iraq gets ugly again, there could at least be incidents on the border and the possibility of a few clashes between Saudi and Iraqi M-1 tanks.

More realistically, the Iraqis want their M-1s to keep the Turks out. A less likely, but still possible, aggressor is Iran. Although Iraq and Iran are both run by their Shia majorities, Iran is ruled by a religious dictatorship, and some of those Iranian clerics consider part of southern Iraq (where Shia holy places are) as part of Iran. Iraq figures that 140 M-1 tanks could make short work of the ramshackle collection of older tanks Iran has (and is unable to upgrade much because of all the arms embargoes). For the foreseeable future, however, most of the Iraqi tank force will consist of upgraded Russian T-72s.

Morocco will add the 200 M1A1s to an existing force of 200 upgraded Russian T-72s and 300 upgraded American M-60s. Morocco's only potential land threat is from Algeria, which has 320 T-72s and 420 even older Russian tanks. There are 300 newer Russian T-90s on order. Neither country is interested in a war, although there have been tense relations in the past.

 


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